From time to time, a news source refuses to work with us on a story. However, that doesn’t prevent us from covering him or her. (Remember Dale Washam, Pierce County’s prickly assessor-treasurer?)
There are many ways to get information for a story, even one as big as a presidential campaign. Below is the piece last week by The Washington Post that further illustrates the point.
What actually happens when Trump blacklists a reporter
By Paul Farhi
The Washington Post
A day after Donald Trump revoked The Washington Post’s credentials to cover his campaign, one of the newspaper’s reporters walked into his rally in Greensboro, North Carolina, and began reporting on it.
The only difference was that the reporter, Jenna Johnson, entered on a general-admission ticket, not a press pass. She sat in the audience instead of the designated media “pen,” and later filed a story.
So much for being barred from covering the presumptive GOP presidential candidate.
Johnson’s experience says much about the practical impact of Trump’s efforts to banish news organizations whose reporting has displeased him.
For the most part, Trump’s sanctions against the press haven’t made much difference. Although the dozen or so news outlets that have been blacklisted certainly object to being shut out, they say the restrictions are largely symbolic, an attack on traditional norms, and don’t deter reporting on him.
“Access has never been central to our journalism, and we think the best reporting done on Trump, by us and others, is from the outside,” said Ben Smith, the editor of Buzzfeed, which hasn’t been accredited by Trump since he announced his candidacy a year ago.
Getting on Trump’s blacklist does present a few logistical hassles. Reporters from affected organizations have to wait longer to enter Trump’s events; they can’t attend or ask questions at his press conferences; and they tend not to get interviews with Trump or his staff.
But for every restriction, there’s a workaround.
The Des Moines Register, banned by Trump since last summer, gets audio and video footage of the candidate’s events and copies of his press statements from friendly third parties in the news media, said Annah Backstrom, who oversees the paper’s political reporting.
Its reporters have covered Trump events the same way The Post did: By securing a publicly available ticket. If all else fails, a verboten news organization can hire a freelancer to cover for it.
It’s not entirely clear how Trump decides who or what organizations to ban. The most obvious element is a persistent pattern of stories he doesn’t like — although one strike is sometimes enough.
The Huffington Post, for example, went into Trump’s penalty box early on by consigning coverage of him to its entertainment section. (It has since changed its mind but is still banned.) The Post got the hook for a headline suggesting he had tied President Obama to the nightclub massacre in Orlando — even though The Wall Street Journal ran a similar headline on its story without incurring his wrath.
Both The Des Moines Register and The New Hampshire Union Leader lost access not for news stories but for anti-Trump editorial columns.
Reporters banned by Trump get their credential requests turned down via a robo-email from the Trump campaign that says the following: “During the 2016 Presidential Primary race, the Donald J. Trump Campaign fully recognizes and respects all media but due to various venue sizes, media space, and safety, we must limit the number of credentialed media and give priority to our national and local outlets. We appreciate your understanding.”
Those still on the banned list have found that Trump’s restrictions are often arbitrarily enforced and vaguely defined. Reporters from some blacklisted outlets still receive press releases from his campaign; others don’t. A day after Trump sanctioned The Post, one of the paper’s reporters got a call back from Trump’s press handlers, suggesting the lines of communications are still open.
But others face a complete blackout. The campaign did not respond to several requests for comment for this article.
The Post doesn’t know yet whether Trump’s sanctions against the newspaper extend to the Republican convention next month or to the team of reporters who are producing a book about him. The Post’s book team has interviewed Trump many times, including two weeks ago, when he expressed enthusiasm for the project and invited the journalists back for more interviews. But Trump has also publicly trashed the book, telling Fox News at one point that the paper has been asking him “ridiculous questions” about his past.
The real objections to Trump’s actions from the press aren’t about the inconvenience; they’re about the seemingly undemocratic nature of his actions. Candidates of every party rarely like the coverage they get, but few have resorted to banning a reporter, let alone entire news organizations.
“When I was in Moscow, Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin gave me credentials to cover his re-election campaign to a second term even after several years of critical coverage of his crackdown on Russian media and rollback of democratic reforms,” said Susan Glasser, the editor of Politico, whose beat reporter was banned by Trump in March. “It is just astonishing that something like this is happening in the United States.”